Before she ever played an organized basketball game, McKinley High School's Erica Lafayette had championship dreams. Time after time, she launched shots toward a backyard goal and envisioned winning a championship when the ball rippled through the net.
“That was me … every single day,” Lafayette said. “More than anything else, I want to win a championship with my team. We came close. Now there is another chance.”
The 5-foot-11 Lafayette is not at the top of any polished recruiting lists. But the McKinley senior has 17 scholarship offers, led by LSU, Wichita State, Southern Miss and Louisiana-Monroe.
Though she has some late summer recruiting visits set, Lafayette is one of six players working with new McKinley coach Temeka Johnson, the former LSU and WNBA standout, with an eye toward the season.
Lafayette side-steps a mention of the all-sports playoff ban McKinley had last year as part of LHSAA sanctions as deftly as she uses a cross-over dribble to shed an opponent.
“I don’t look at the situations I’ve been through as downfalls. I look at them as lessons,” Lafayette said. “Every situation I’ve been through, like the one last year, I take as a lesson. I learned how to prepare for it and handle it.”
The 2018-19 season was one of growth Lafayette never expected. She played guard for McKinley teams that advanced to the Division I select title game her first two high school seasons, losing to John Curtis each time. She found herself playing playing multiple positions last season.
“I went from being a two-guard or a point guard to being whatever I had to be,” Lafayette said. “I had to go get rebounds, play focused defense and still be able to score. And I learned how to cheer my team on. You know, that’s not just something you do from the bench. You have to cheer your team on when you are on the court, too.”
McKinley placed second to 2018 Class 5A champion East Ascension, eventually a 5A semifinalist, in District 5-5A. Lafayette averaged about 20 points, 8 rebounds and five assists per game.
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Johnson is Lafayette’s third coach in the past three seasons. She credits former McKinley coaches Krystal Huggins (work ethic) and 2018-19 coach Ella Reado (heart), now head coach at Broadmoor, for adding key components to her game, which had to develop quickly.
“I didn’t play (organized) basketball until the seventh grade … my parents wouldn’t let me,” said Lafayette as she shot a playful glance toward her mother, Andrea. “My mom would say ‘Wait, just a little longer.’ I still have a lot to learn.”
Lafayette faces notable challenges. The path to a championship will likely again include defending champion John Curtis and its star guard, Jerkaila Jordan, a Tulane commitment.
The addition of players from the junior high ranks is something Lafayette and Johnson, who took over as McKinley coach in early June, eagerly await. In the meantime, Lafayette works to enhance her versatility and fine-tune her focus.
Many up-and-coming players prefer to talk basketball. Johnson lauds Lafayette’s willingness to listen.
“Erica is a sponge. She does like to listen and she likes to listen to those who have come before her who know what it takes to be successful,” Johnson said. “I’ve given her and the other girls challenges with conditioning. She has responded. I am big on the weight room. We’ve been doing things with weights to get her stronger and she has taken to that full force.
“Helping her to focus out there on the court at all times has been a key thing we’ve concentrated on. As long as she is learning and engaged, she is on point. But distractions can easily get her off track.”
Coaches have nurtured her. Making skills second nature is the objective Lafayette believes will serve her and the Panthers well as they chase victories. And those championship dreams.
“I’m working on hitting a shot five times in a row, doing a particular move again and again until I get it and it's second nature,” Lafayette said. "Consistency and focus ... I have to have it."